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2021 SEC Unit Rankings: Secondaries

The case for DBU

South Carolina v LSU
Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

DBU had a rough go of it last year. LSU allowed 9.7 yards per passing attempt, which is completely unheard of around these parts. Now, the good news is, the talent wasn’t the problem, it was a scheme in which guys clearly did not know what they were doing.

Receivers ran free through the secondary, and LSU was prone to the big play as there were times when targets went completely uncovered. But here’s the thing… LSU was really good at coverage when it got its assignments right.

When we look at the ratings, the stat I like to look at is passes defended per attempt and per completion, as it shows how often the secondary is breaking up the play, particularly relative to the offense making plays. And here’s the thing, despite the yardage, LSU was off the charts on both metrics. LSU was a team with a great secondary absolutely betrayed by some awful coaching. And that tumor has been cut out.

Hold on to your butts.

1 LSU. That was a long prelude to say, I don’t care that much abut LSU’s overall poor pass defense. The secondary brought it, leading the SEC in passes defended per attempt (16.3%) and relative to completions (27.3%). They also converted 24.1% of their passes defended into interceptions, which is off the charts great. Derek Stingley and Eli Ricks is the best corner duo in the nation.

2 Alabama. Bama loses their best corner in Surtain, but they return everybody else from an elite secondary. They were the only unit to put up numbers like LSU, and they have the talent to do it again.

3 Texas A&M. The Aggies return four starters from a formerly beleaguered unit that has been rapidly improving. They make a play on 14.8% of passes and also have a great interception rate at 21.7%. Not quite LSU levels, but in the ballpark, and the experience plays. Getting Myles Jones back for his second senior year is a huge bonus.

4 Arkansas. The Hogs are the sort of team whose star player in the secondary is a safety. But Jalen Catalon flat out makes plays, with 4 PBU, 3 interceptions, 2 TFL, and 2 forced fumbles to go with 99 tackles. I love the guy, and like A&M, pretty much the whole unit is back.

5 Mississippi St. State was one of those secondaries that quietly outperformed the league average, boasted a good pass defense overall, and now returns three starters including Martin Emerson, a corner who broke up 11 passes last season, tied for the SEC lead among returning players. A quietly affective unit.

6 Georgia. The Dawgs boasted one of the best pass defenses in the conference last year, but they only return one starter from last year’s unit. I’ll give them some benefit of the doubt due to the way they have recruited, but secondary is not really a plug and play position.

7 Florida. Yes, Kaiar Elam is awesome. He had 11 PBU to go with 2 picks, and he’s probably the best corner in the SEC who doesn’t reside in Baton Rouge. But he’s also the only returning starter from a unit that hovered around league average last year. The Gators allow 7.8 yards per pass and have a 13.1% passes defended rate. That’s a bucket of meh, even with one of the best corners in the nation, and now he’s doing it by himself.

8 Missouri. Another quietly effective unit, but they drop the ball (terrible pun, I apologize) when it comes to turning passes defended into interceptions. They are the wort in the SEC at it aside from Vanderbilt, and while corners aren’t expected to have the hands of receivers, you do need to do a better of job of turning touches into turnovers.

9 Auburn. About league average at everything last season, Auburn returns three starters, so they should expect at least a repeat performance of overall competence. Can they climb to the elite? They lack that big time playmaker, though to be fair, Nehemiah Pritchett and Roger McCreary are a duo who could start for nearly any team in the nation. Damn, there’s a LOT of good secondaries in this conference.

10 Kentucky. The Wildcats were a decent secondary last season who convinced a lot of people they were awesome because they pulled down 16 interceptions. It was an epic performance, but kind of misleading, as nine of them came in a two-week stretch against State and Tennessee. It’s not a bad unit, but it’s no quite as good as you will be lead to believe by those who only look at interception numbers.

11 Ole Miss. The drop is steep and perilous. You can make a case that Kentucky could be middle of the pack, while Ole Miss… good God. There is a huge gap between the bottom of the conference and the rest. They give up a bunch of yards and do a poor job of coverage. Good luck. And there are three units behind them.

12 Tennessee. In the Vols defense, they return three starters. On the other hand, the unit was awful last year, barely clearly 10% on passes defended per attempts and 15% on the PD ratio to completions.

13 Vanderbilt. The Commodores were the worst secondary in the SEC last year, a tall order given how many were vying for that spot. They do return three starters, so maybe some improvement is in the cards, but their ratios are almost all in the single digits, and they had just 2 interceptions all last season. You shouldn’t read too much into interceptions numbers in general, but… Two.

14 South Carolina. The same lack of performance as Ole Miss and Tennessee, only with just one starter returning. Maybe that’s a good thing, as the rebuild can start.